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SB 853: The Health Care Language Assistance Act

SB 853: The Health Care Language Assistance Act

The first law of its kind in the nation, SB 853 helps improve language access in health care throughout California.

"Our changing demographics demand our health care system adapt. This new law - the first in the country - stands as model for our nation as it becomes more diverse." 

                                              - Ellen Wu, Former Executive Director, CPEHN

In 2003, CPEHN sponsored SB 853, the Health Care Language Assistance Act. The first of its kind in the country, this law holds health plans accountable for the provision of language services – requiring health plans and health insurers to provide their enrollees with interpreter services, translated materials, and to collect data on race, ethnicity, and language to address health inequities.

After nearly a decade, SB 853 went into full effect on January 1, 2009. In our efforts to inform our communities of their new rights, CPEHN has compiled the following list of resources. For more information about CPEHN and our policy work contact Cary Sanders, Senior Policy Analyst, at (510) 832-1160, or

About SB 853

A Blueprint for Success: Bringing Language Access to Millions of Californians, documents CPEHN's advocacy efforts on SB 853. 

Summary of SB 853 and its regulations: 

  1. Health plans must conduct a needs assessment to calculate threshold languages and collect race, ethnicity, and language data on their enrollees.
  2. Health plans must provide quality, accessible, and timely access to interpreters at all points of contact and at no cost to the enrollee.
  3. Health plans must translate vital documents into threshold languages.
  4. Health plans must ensure interpreters are trained and competent, and that translated materials are of high quality.
  5. Health plans must notify their enrollees of the availability of no cost interpreter and translation services.
  6. Health plans must train staff on language access policies and procedures, as well as how to work with interpreters and limited English patients.